Sunday, July 28, 2013


You can listen to the podcast review of PACIFIC RIM directly here or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.  For a more. extended discussion of the movie with two guys who actually know something about mecha anime head to the Vassals of Kingsgrave

Sea monsters versus robots? No thanks. A cross-dimensional portal has opened up in the pacific allowing big fact Kaiju beasties to plunder San Francisco and Tokyo, and humans have created big dual-piloted mega-machines called Jaegers to fight them? Puh-lease!  At least, until I heard this flick was being directed by Guillermo del Toro - of PAN'S LABYRINTH and HELLBOY fame.  That guy has such an intelligent, humorous, inventive take on fantasy that I couldn't help but be intrigued.  And he has driven this movie to a higher level. The CGI rendering of the massive cylon-style robots is amazing, and leagues beyond anything in TRANSFORMERS, and the action sequences played mostly at night and in driving rain are stunning....until they become boring.  

Where we see del Toro really at his finest is in his inventive rendering of black market Hong Kong - full of all the awe and wonder of the Hellboy hidden market, and presided over by a majestic Ron Perlmen as black marketeer, Mr Chau. Here we get a taste of geek fanboy Toro, as embodied by Charlie Day as the "kaiju groupie" researcher tasked with getting a monster brain. He's the kind of guy who says he can't tell you the secret because it's classified and the proceeds to tell you anyways, because it's so unbelievably cool! Sadly, it's all too brief. 

In fact, it's sad to say that the comic relief side-kick characters are far more interesting than the rather bland, buff protagonists.  Our hero Raleigh is played by Charlie Hunnam as a caring pretty boy with a dodgy American accent.  He's almost as unremarkable as Robert Kazinsky as his douchey pretty boy antagonist with a dodgy Australian accent. When the Jaeger pilots get into a punch up over a girl it's like you've transgressed to 1980s teen action flicks like KARATE KID and TOP GUN and not in a good way.  To be fair, the female lead, a girl called Mako played by Rinki Kikuchi (BABEL), is more interesting insofar as del Toro doesn't ask her to get her kit off and she can clearly handle herself.  That doesn't stop all the male characters infantilising her though, although at least Stacker Pentecost (the majestic Idris Elba) has the excuse that it's part of their character arc.

All of which speaks to the touchy feel hippie politics at the heart of this movie.  When the alien beasties attack, mankind defeats them by coming together and working together and helping each other through our angst. Awww!  Still, it makes a really nice change from all that dark, angsty Christopher Nolan emo stuff that weighed down MAN OF STEEL it's probably plunged to the bottom of PACIFIC RIM along with del Toro's sense of credible dialogue.  Really the only reason to see this film is Idris Elba who is so stupendously badass that he actually lives up to his ridiculous character name.  If the aliens ever come, I'm going to call Idris to lead a rag-tag band of rebels against it.  If they even tug on his jacket, he's going to nail them to the wall. 

PACIFIC RIM is on global release. It has a running time of 131 minutes and is rated PG-13 in the USA and 12A in the UK.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Cimino's breathtaking Heaven's Gate: cinema as stunning landscape painting

This review is available as a podcast below or by subscribing to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

True story.  In 1892, the rich cattle-ranchers of Wyoming declared war on the newest influx of poor immigrants for old Europe. A few of these famished immigrants were rustling, to be sure, but nothing to justify the wholesale butchering of men on trumped up charges of anarchy and theft.  What makes it worse is that the stockmen apparently had the tacit, and then the explicit support of the US government, even though no actual warrants were produced in advance of the action. The result is the Johnson County War - although massacre would be a closer description.

Fast forward to the 1970s, and New Hollywood director Michael Cimino, flush from the success of THE DEER HUNTER, used that leverage to get United Artists to let him make his passion project, originally titled The Johnson County War, but known to us as HEAVEN'S GATE.  

That movie comes to us today freighted with notoriety and tales of hubris, excess and abuse.  Cimino was, like most of his auteur counterparts, so bloated with success and flush with cash, that his projects became journeys into addiction and ego-maniacal tyranny. It could have been RAGING BULL or APOCALYPSE NOW that sunk a studio, and pulled the curtain down on that Golden Age - both of those pictures were helmed by drug-addled geniuses who went massively over-budget, and were tortured in editing - but it happened to HEAVEN'S GATE.  And so offensive was Cimino's arrogance and so lurid the tales of sets rebuilt on a whim, millions of feet of stock printed, actors exhausted after take after take, that the press were rabid before they even saw a frame of the finished picture.

Cimino's went into the editing suite with 220 hours of footage, that had cost the studio $44m, on an initial budget nearer $10m.  His initial cut was 325 minutes long, and deemed unreleasable.  He cut it down to 219 minutes and it played New York in November 1980 and bombed.  He eventually cut it down even more to 149 minutes, which played in 1981.  It bombed again. Ebert called it the worst movie he'd seen.  It won Razzies rather than Oscars. It became an industry joke, except with dire consequences, as United Artists effectively went bust and got sold off the back of it.  Studios started making heavily produced action flicks rather than risky visionary films.  And it was all Cimino's fault.  He never made another movie of any note or scale or vision.

Amid all the hype and the hoopla - the moral superiority and told-you-sos - the reality is that HEAVEN'S GATE is, to my mind, one of the greatest films ever made.  And now, with the painstaking restoration and recompilation of a 216 minute cut*, supervised by Michael Cimino, we can all see why, projected on the big screen, where this movie belongs.  It is, to my mind, visually stunning; beautifully acted; incredibly accomplished in its use of music; and deeply politically relevant today.  There are so many scenes that I remember vividly - so many one-liners that I can always recall - and watching it anew this week - so much that is relevant in our post-global financial crisis world. 

What follows here is less of a review than a long-form critical appreciation, full of spoilers. 

Kris Kristofferson as the world-weary Jim Averill.

The movie opens with a PROLOGUE set in Harvard in 1870 as two friends, Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and Billy Irvine (John Hurt) are graduating.  They are ebullient, triumphant, the kings of summer. The college priest (an ageing Joseph Cotton) lectures them on their obligation to civilise the uncivilised, but Billy, already a jovial drunkard and master wordsmith, warns them that change is impossible in his fateful, but little understood, valedictory address. But even as the boys dance with their sweethearts to the Blue Danube on the college lawns, violence breaks in. There's some kind of kerfuffle - town vs gown perhaps? - and Billy is bleeding.  He realises that this is the happiest they will ever be. It's all over.  They will never again be this full of hope and life and promise.  

I found this segment especially poignant, not least because the scenes, though claiming to be in Harvard, were filmed at my alma mater, and the waltz scene was so redolent of those drunken high summer balls.  But despite that personal connection, it's surely impossible not to be swept up in that opening triumphant march, the Battle Hymn of the Republic sweeping our lads into their elite ceremony, the gilded hall pullulating with pretty girls. And as we transition to the lawns for the extended waltz scene, the fluidity of Cimino and DP Vilmos Zsigmond's camera allow that energy and vitality to lift us up and into that moment. 

The FIRST ACT of the movie proper takes place twenty years later, with a quick scene setting up at once the brutal struggle to survive in Johnson County. A poor immigrant is slaughtering a cow that he has stolen, when from behind a white sheet, the shadow of a mercenary comes up and shoots him cold dead.  It's a brutal and stunning expressionist shot that defines so much of what is to come.  We then move into St Louis for the remainder of this act, as a now grizzled Averill learns of the war that the stockmen have declared on the immigrants.  

As his train rolls into town we are faced with the awful dichotomy of his empty first class carriage, and the quite literally huddled masses on top of it. The sound of the train, the people, the horses, the traffic is so loud that we can barely hear the dialogue.  This isn't a mistake.  Cimino is making a point about the chaos, industry and anarchy of a frontier boom-town, and of the savage brutality of a world where a starving child is pitied by a working class train-steward but nobody else.  His recreation of that world is immersive and worth every production decision to build and rebuild.  I've never before felt the industrial machine so tangibly - and the steam engine whipping up dust and cloud, is like something out of Whistler. 

Isabelle Huppert as Ella and Kris Kristofferson as Averill

As soon as Averill makes his way from the station to the exclusive club where the stockmen are hatching their plot, the hushed luxurious silence is stark and obvious.  Only the rich have the luxury of peace in which to think.  Averill is told the full details of the 125 man Death List by his old friend Billy Irvine - now so drunk he barely has the courage to stand against the plan - the most tragic post-college drunk since Sebastian Flyte.

As we move into the second hour of the film, ACT TWO takes us to Johnson County, and into the crazy, down and dirty world of John Bridges (Jeff Bridges) emporium of cock-fighting, drinking, gambling and, somewhat improbably, roller-skating!  Averill tries to warn everyone of the coming war, but no-one seems to take action because they have too much tied up in the town, and perhaps because it seems so fantastical a threat.  The interiors are dark, crowded, richly decorated and drip with authenticity.  Cimino shows immigrants speaking their own dialects and doesn't translate.  We feel for the first time what it must have been to be in settler country.  In the words of John Bridges: "It's getting dangerous to be poor in this country." Averill replies: "It always was."

One of the most exhilarating scenes - the roller-dance at Heaven's Gate

We also meet Ella (Isabelle Huppert), the brothel madam with whom Averill is having a relationship.  He gives her a grand horse and carriage and her exuberant ride into town is filmed with wild POV shots that communicate the danger and exhilaration of the ride. That joyful energy carries over into a scene that mirrors the formal dancing of the college lawn waltz - the roller-skating dance at the rink known as "Heaven's Gate." I've never seen a better use of music in film to communicate a sense of community, time, history and motivation.  As for the production design - just the posters on the walls of Heaven's Gate should've won this picture an Oscar. 

This takes us into the central emotional triangle of the film.  Ella loves Averill and he wants her to leave, but won't leave with her. By contrast, the mercenary Nate Chamption (Christopher Walken) will keep Ella safe if she marries him.  She needs to be kept safe because she's been accepting the pilfered cattle as payment, incurring the stock association's ire. Behaviour that might appear coquettish in another comes across as genuine love of both men. It's a subtle and modern portrayal that few other films have managed to convey.  As for Averill, it's not clear if he really loves Ella.  When he's deposited, drunk, back in his digs by Nate, we see that he still has a framed picture of his college sweetheart.  

And while we're here, let's stop a minute to appreciate that amazing set of the rooming-house, full to the brim with poor immigrants - a set that extends in depth and height, to hammocks slung across the narrow corridor, bodies everywhere, claustrophobic and stifling. The beautifully, deliberately framed visuals continue.  We see a team of old women, bundled in rags, pulling a plough-share until they fall from fatigue.  A drunken man atop a horse, backlit in deep blue against the night sky.  And finally, one of the most powerful scenes in the film, entirely without dialogue: Nate pulls out a chair for Ella at his table, inviting her to marry him silently - will she sit down?

The war begins - expressionistic framing and choice of camera angle.

ACT THREE sees the war start, and opens the third hour of the film. Fatefully, it's the poor good-hearted train-steward who's the first to be killed in a shot whose power is enhanced by the camera angles and colour contrast - red blood against lush green grass. This truly is paradise turned to hell. Averill reads out the Death List to the gathered immigrants in Heaven's Gate. It's basically the whole town. The townsfolk bemoan the fact that they have been disenfranchised - that the rules of the game are rigged for the rich - and that it has always ever been thus.  "Your hopes are exaggerated. In the end they got it all anyway."  We move to the brothel where Ella is gang-raped - a scene that is shot sensitively despite Cimino's easy use of full frontal nudity earlier. Averill comes to her rescue, but even then can't offer her a way out - because he won't marry her, and she won't leave otherwise. It all seems utterly hopeless.

There is a futility and nihilism and rage that seems to reflect our own contemporary angst in movements such as Occupy and the Tea Party, at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Somehow the system seems rigged against the poor, and even the rich are resorting to extra-judicial measures to protect their wealth.  The immigrants see themselves as the real contributors to society - wanting to improve and work the land, and make something of Wyoming. They characterise the stockmen as "Eastern speculators" just creaming off profit but holding Wyoming back as just a cow pasture.  The debate seems redolent of our current opposition between the nostalgia for an economy that made "things" rather than abstract and complex derivatives.  

The mercenaries ride into town.

As we move into the third hour of the film, we enter ACT FOUR, which is, basically, the massacre. Poor Nate Champion, who had discovered something like a conscious and nobility after Ella's rape, turns on his masters and is smoked out of his cottage in turn and shot down in a scene that has visual punch equivalent to the final scene of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Ebert says he thinks it's absurd that he'd write a final not to Ella in that moment, but I felt it was utterly credible and psychologically correct.  Moreover, there was something heartbreaking of seeing his precious walls - wallpapered in newspaper adverts - go up in smoke. So much for the Harvard Reverend's attempts to civilise the uncivilised. 

Meanwhile, the townsfolk have been butchered, and those that remain hole up overnight.  Averill prolongs their pain with some Roman tactics, but it's all shut down when the US army intervenes, on the side of the stockmen.  Somebody washes his hands of it, saying "it's not me that's doing it to you, it's the rules."  Once again, that modern cynicism is staggering - it's not a particular person that's evil - not even Sam Waterston's swaggering elitist Carron - but the impersonal, arrogant, immovable "rules". It's like some kind of nightmarish Leonard Cohen song: "everybody knows that the dice are loaded."  Averill turns his back on the men, he's already resigned as marshall, and for one forlorn moment we think he might leave with Ella, in bridal white, but that's obviously absurd.  As absurd as the idea that poor drunkard-savant Billy, having declared that "all flesh is dust" would survive the cross-fire.  This isn't a place for romance or romantics.

So, from the glorious lawns of Harvard, the Blue Danube now plays over the dusty, wagon strewn field where the immigrants have been butchered and a widow blows her brains out.  If Averill survives to the EPILOGUE, three hours and twenty minutes into the film, he's living a kind of death too.  Dressed like a dandy on a yacht with this college sweet-heart, now aged and dessicated. He's suffocating under chintz and roses.   

HEAVEN'S GATE closes with most of the characters we loved butchered, Averill trapped, the rules of the game unchanged, in fact, validated by the highest authorities.  Nate Champion's triumphant "fuck you" achieved nothing, neither did Averill's pleas and idealism.  Even Billy's descent into alcoholism couldn't save him. And third generation asshole Carron has probably spawned another three generations of state governors.  If the message of EASY RIDER was "we blew it", the message of HEAVEN'S GATE is that we were never in a position to blow it - the game was blown before we even got here. In it's all pervading disenfranchisement and nihilism, it speaks eloquently to our times and in visual and musical poetry that matches anything in cinema history.

HEAVEN'S GATE was released in 1980. The digitally restored 216 minute cut opens on 2nd August at BFI Southbank and selected cinemas nationwide. *It's basically the same as the original 219 minute cut except without an intermission. The original YCM negative has been 2K scanned and recombined and then restored under Cimino's direct supervision. This cut has been rated 15 in the UK for strong violence, sexual violence, sexualised nudity and language.  One scene of unsimulated animal cruelty was cut.  It is rated R in the USA. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013


To listen to the podcast review of this film, listen here, or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

Hugh Jackman's latest outing as THE WOLVERINE is a pleasant surprise - a summer superhero blockbuster that is brooding without being portentous;  has a killer action sequence without being one loud thing bashing into another; has a plot that's twisty but also makes sense; has female characters that can kick ass without getting their kit off; and has a sense of humour without being dominated by the persona of the star. As a result, it feels like a far more balanced and easily enjoyable watch than MAN OF STEEL, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS or IRON MAN 3. 

The story starts where the last X-MEN movie ended: Logan/Wolverine is grieving for Jean Grey, and hiding from his superhero nature in the Yukon.  Still, he's too good a man to resist a damsel in distress, and when summoned to Tokyo to meet the dying man he once saved, he ends up becoming the protector of his beautiful grand-daughter Mariko.  She's being hunted by the Yakuza, intimidated by her father, and sleazed on by her politician fiancé.  And as the movie unfolds we discover why she's so valuable, and why Logan suddenly can't self-heal.  

This is perhaps the most interesting part of the story - and allows Jackman to play Logan in an emotional range that has hitherto been denied him.  I've always found Jackman the perfect embodiment of the character, and watching him perplexed by his mortality, but also drawn to it, is fascinating.  In fact, it struck me that his character in this film is not so different to Jean Valjean in LES MIS - a man with a big secret identity and a strange strength, who appears on screen bearded, desperate and struggling with whether he should embrace that identity, and how best to seek justice.  That said, Jean Valjean was not as cut as Logan!  Hugh Jackman has said that he finally had enough time to train for this role and to create the body that he felt the Wolverine should have, and boy does it show!

It's also worth mentioning the fact that the plot of this film, based on an initial script by Christopher McQuarrie (THE USUAL SUSPECTS) feels a lot more like a Bond movie than a conventional X-MEN film, perhaps because it focuses on one hero, the girl he's trying to save, and a classic evil supervillain in the form of Svetlana Khodchenkova's brilliantly camp Viper.  We even get the classic third act showdown in a super-lair.  The negative aspect of the Bond-like script is the childish simplicity of the two plot twists which any fool will guess about an hour before they are revealed. 

Behind the camera, James Mangold does a fantastic job as director - and given his CV of directing character-led dramas like WALK THE LINE, the action sequences are surprisingly good. The bullet train fight sequence is particularly impressive, but I also liked the imagery of Logan as a kind of Saint Sebastian in the third act, as well as the fact that Mangold makes sure that both female leads - even the simpering love interest - have some fighting chops and are never gratuitously shot in their bikinis (JJ Abrams, I'm looking at you!)  The  one negative thing is that the addition of 3D in post-production adds nothing to the movie, other than an extra few dollars to the ticket price. 

THE WOLVERINE is on global release. It is rated PG-13 in the USA and 12A in the UK. It has a running time of 125 minutes. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


You can listen to a podcast review of SIGHTSEERS directly here, or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

After the surreal gangster violence of DOWN TERRACE and the cult horror brutality of KILL LIST, director Ben Wheatley swung the pendulum back toward comedy with his 2012 film, SIGHTSEERS. This is black comedy at its very finest - full of dodgy sex jokes, British camp humour, jokes about gingers and the Daily Mail. 

The plot is simple:  poor, naive Tina (Alice Lowe - THIS IS JINSY) is swept off her feet by ginger Brummie Chris (Steve Oram) and taken on the holiday of her a caravan!  It's all going well until she realises that rather than just get irritated by litterbugs, and sanctimonious do-gooders, he's actually murdering them.  This is revealed pretty early on, and the comedy then comes from how Tina, besotted with Chris, and actually rather liking have a guy stick up for her, is going to react to this news.  

I absolutely love this film.  It's so instantly quotable it's destined to become a cult film.  Lines like "he's not a person: he's a Daily Mail reader! or "Report THAT to the National Trust!" are pure comedy gold. The acting is pitch-perfect, there's the trademark Ben Wheatley person-getting-murdered-by-getting-run-over shot, and plenty of comedy caravan-shagging.  That said, I'm not sure how far it would translate to other countries that don't get the peculiarly British references.  

SIGHTSEERS okayed Cannes 2012 and was released in the UK, Ireland, Australia, France and New Zealand that year.  It opened earlier this year in Hungary, the Netherlands, Israel, Belgium, Poland, Germany, the USA, Qatar, Italy and Portugal.  It opens in Sweden on July 26th.

SIGHTSEERS has a running time of 88 minutes and is rated 15 for strong language, bloody violence, sex and sex references.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


You can listen to the podcast review of this movie directly below, or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

In 1954 Alfred Hitchcock released his seminal murder-mystery, DIAL M FOR MURDER. The problem is that most people saw it in 2D, rather than in the 3D in which Hitch shot the film.  The reason?  1953 was the real wave of early 3D, with movies like House of Wax being released. But by 1954 audiences had become tired of crappy looking cardboard glasses and incorrectly aligned projectors, not to mention the new fad that was Cinemascope.  So the 3D neg stood unloved until Warner Brothers decided to faithfully restore it, cleaning up each frame and then rescanning in 4K for our new 3D viewing pleasure.  And boy, what a treat it is!  I can honestly say that watching this movie in 3D has added to my appreciation of Hitch's technique, as well as immersing me more deeply into the claustrophobic flat in which the murder takes place.

For the story is elegantly compact:  a jealous, greedy husband (Ray Milland) blackmails a former university acquaintance (Anthony Dawson) into killing his unfaithful wife (Grace Kelly).  No matter that her lover, a crime writer (Robert Cummings) warns the husband that murder plots never go to plan.  For the husband, Tony Wendice, is that most remarkable of villains - the slippery, intelligent, charming, think-on-your-feet kind of murderer. The murder takes place at the half-way point of the film and thereafter the joy of this film is following each twist and turn of the intricate Agatha Christie type plot as we try to figure out, not so much whodunnit, as how or indeed if it will be detected.  Even though I'd seen the movie before, I was still sitting on the edge of my seat.

This was in no small part to the 3D, which helps us feel tangibly part of the cramped apartment in which nearly all of the action takes place - peering round lampshades and learning the intricacies of latchkeys.  The only negative thing I can say - which is hardly a fault of the film-makers - is that while the movie ages well in general, the language and some of the social mores are anachronistic, and this can and does take us out of the film at crucial moments - counter-acting the good work that the 3D is doing.  Still, this is a small problem and doesn't take away from the great achievement in restoring this film and the visual treat it confers. 

DIAL  M FOR MURDER was originally released in 1954 but the 3D print has not been fully restored and the film will be re-released in the UK on July 26th, opening at the Barbican, BFI Southbank and Curzon Mayfair among other venues.  The movie has a running time of 105 minutes and is rated PG for one scene of moderate violence. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013


For a written review of the film, read on, but for a podcast review of this film, you can either listen directly here, or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

Arthouse director Drake Doremus scored a critical smash with his 2011 romantic drama, LIKE CRAZY.  With its handheld DV shooting style, semi-improvised script, and willingness to show the highs and lows of young romance, the movie struck most critics with its fresh authenticity. I, on the other hand, found it precious and irritating.  Doremus' follow up is this new drama, BREATHE IN, which has received far less critical acclaim. I liked it more than LIKE CRAZY, but still not enough to recommend it.

The plot is conventional and hackneyed.  A pretty young girl enters the lives of a dissatisfied middle aged couple, and an affair with the husband throws their emotional lives out of kilter.  In this case, the girl is Sophie, a music prodigy exchange student from England, and the husband is Keith, a man who dreams of an artistically valid life, but is condemned to teaching music in up-state New York to fund his conventional existence.

What gives this movie merit is that Doremus and co-writer Ben York Jones, eschew the typical pyschodrama - making it very clear that neither Keith (Guy Pearce) nor Sophie (Felicity Jones) have dodgy intentions, and that their connection is earnest and beautiful. In fact, the film-makers even create a small role for Kyle MacLachlan as the conventional sleazy older man, to point out how far Keith does not fit that cliché.  But that mature approach has its own pitfalls.  It makes for a movie that's all longing glances and undeclared affinity, but there's little erotic tension or passion or, well, drama. And when the conventional genre structure demands a melodramatic cathartic denouement - let's just say it feels artificial and at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie.

So, overall, BREATHE IN is a disappointment thanks to it's rather thin plot.  The photography is beautiful.  The acting is great - nuanced, subtle, mysterious - and I even loved newcomer Mackenzie Davis as the errant father's teenage daughter.  But the movie just felt like it had too little meat on its bones.  If you want to watch something with more substance, but covering a similar theme, why not check out another Sundance alum: Ry Russo-Young's stunning NOBODY WALKS?

BREATHE IN has a running time of 98 minutes. It has been rated 15 in the UK for strong language. It played Sundance 2013 and is currently on release in the UK and Ireland.  It will be released in the Netherlands on November 7th. It does not yet have a release date in the USA.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


COFFEE TOWN is essentially a straight-to-video movie that deserves attention because its the feature directorial debut of Brad Copeland, a writer and producer on THE INBETWEENERS and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT - some of the funniest comedies of the last decade. His first feature is is a low-budget caper comedy that almost fires but doesn't quite.  

The protagonist Will (Glenn Homerton - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is a guy who works at his local coffee shop, baiting the coffee shop manager (Brian Huskey) and striking up a friendship with a couple of the regulars, including an ineffectual cop (Ben Schwartz - House of Lies). In between trying to woo Becca (Adriana Paliacki - Agents of SHIELD), the cop tells Will that the coffee shop is about to be sold to another business that is impressed by the area’s low crime rates. So the hapless friends decide to stage a robbery on the shop to dissuade the sale of the shop. The film has some nice only mildly funny scenes of friendly banter between the guys who hang out at the shop. I mean, it’s so mild you really do wonder if it’s even worth watching this film - you could just go to your local coffee shop and hang out with your own friends! Still, there are far worse films out there, even in this is still rightly a straight-to-video release.

COFFEE TOWN has a running time of 87 minutes.  The movie is on release in the USA.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


For the written review, well, keep reading! But for the podcast review, either listen directly below or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

Sweet tap-dancing Christ, but FRANCES HA annoyed me. It's exactly that kind of precious, self-aware smug hipster movie that riles me, in exactly the same way as HBO's Girls riles me.  We are meant to be charmed and empathetic toward these flakey, twentysomethings with their great books college degrees who studied semiotics and thinks that life owes them a living. And why oh why is "investment banker" always a lazy shorthand for the soul-less putz who puts up with this shit and pays the bills?  I don't find this behaviour - lazy, narcissistic, delusional - charming. And even if I did, I wouldn't want to watch it for the 86 minute runtime of this movie.  And I'm not buying the idea that just because you filmed it in black and white it's deep and meaningful.

But let's take a breath and look at what we have here.  FRANCES HA is a movie written and directed by Noah Baumbach, who made the stunningly good THE SQUID & THE WHALE and the more sporadically successful MARGOT AT THE WEDDING and GREENBERG.   The latter film starred Greta Gerwig, the charming actress who plays, well charming characters who win our hearts even as they're being doormats (GREENBERG), obnoxious (DAMSELS IN DISTRESS) or flakey (FRANCES HA).  In GREENBERG and DAMSELS, the movies worked largely because Gerwig is just one of those people that you're happy to spend time with.  And the fact that I didn't walk out of FRANCES HA is largely thanks to the fact that she is pretty charming even when she's being utterly irritating.

So what's it all about Alfie?  It's about the friendship between college best buddies, Frances (Gerwig) and Sophia (Mickey Sumner).  That friendship is tested when Sophia does what late twenties girls do - gets a series job, gets an aspirational apartment and gets a fiancée.   Meanwhile, Frances is stuck as an apprentice modern dancer with no real steady income and no real hope of won.  The fact that she's impressed with the fact that she even asks for more work sums up the low bar she has set herself - and even then she ends up a loser.  So that's it.  For the first hour of this flick we watch Frances fail, and infuriatingly never really deal with that, just telling herself and her friends lies about how she's doing okay.  And then there's a crisis and a resolution neither of which I think are particularly credible.

Here's the basic level at which this movie doesn't work.  You know how Sofia Coppola so brilliantly and effortlessly captures how young girls are in each other's company?  There are a number of scenes where Baumbach tries to establish the same intimacy and freedom between Frances and Sophia, but it always comes off as stage-y rather than authentic.  And if you don't believe in their friendship, then the whole dramatic love story played as platonic friendship just doesn't work either. Of course, one let out could be that Baumbach is trying to show us how Frances sees her own life - mythologised, romanticised, a series of beautifully staged montages.  But I suspect that the movie isn't as clever as all that.

I think the simplest conclusion is that if you are someone who likes HBO's Girls, and thinks Lena Dunham is the voice of your generation, then this movie is for you.  I would rather just watch MANHATTAN or ANNIE HALL and be done with it. 

FRANCES HA has a running time of 86 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK for strong language and sex references.

FRANCES HA played Telluride, Toronto, New York, Berlin and host of other festivals in 2012.  It was released earlier this year in the USA, the Netherlands, Russia and Canada.  It is currently on release in Belgium, France, Poland and Israel. It opens in Poland on July 19th, in the UK and Ireland on July 26th, in Germany on August 1st, in Sweden on August 16th, and in Iceland on September 6th. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

KILL LIST (2011) - Ben Wheatley Retrospective

You can listen to the podcast directly here or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

The next step in my retrospective of British horror director Ben Wheatley's career is the 2011 film, KILL LIST.  George Ghon reviewed the movie for this blog, but this was my first time watching the movie, and boy was I in for a shock.  

As with DOWN TERRACE, the first part of the movie is a quiet, unsettling take on modern suburbia, with snatches of violence occasionally visible beneath the cracks.  We meet Jay (Neil Maskell), a British war veteran back from what was obviously some kind of mission gone berserk in Kiev.  Jay clearly loves his wife and young son, but he's also clearly got some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, compounded by his wife putting pressure on him to make some money. She leads him explicitly back into partnership with another ex-soldier called Gal (Michael Smiley) who brings him into the world of contract killing.  
What I love about this first act is that with Laurie Rose's handheld shooting style and Robin Hill's almost art-house Mallickian editing, combining voice-over or dialogue with a shot of a contemplative character, we get a real sense of intimacy with the family. I also love the foreshadowing - the idea that play-violence is everywhere - roughing up on the lawn, playing with toy swords - but that the real thing is just around the corner.  That said,  at this stage of the film I thought the hints of cult behaviour were a bit cheesy - viz Gal's weird girlfriend scratching a cult symbol on the back of Jay's mirror and stuffing his blood-stained tissue into her bra.  That seemed to me less scary than just embarrassing.

In the second act we see Jay and Gal embark on their kill list, and as with DOWN TERRACE, the movie strikes an uneasy comedy-horror tone as their deadpan nonsense banter is interspersed with acts of violence that go from being off-screen and subtly hinted at to more and more explicit. Even worse is the genuinely disturbing feeling that the victims actually want to be killed. This, for me, is where the movie really kicks into gear, just as Jay starts to unravel and we get hints of what may have gone wrong in Kiev.  As for the third act, well, I can't reveal too much or else spoil it for you, but suffice to say that it goes batshit crazy in the best way, with cultish violence, third-act reveals of who's pulling the strings.  But for a more spoiler-ish discussion of its textured and provocative denouement, feel free to stay listening to the podcast after the show-notes!

KILL LIST played the festival circuit in 2011 including SXSW, Frightfest and Toronto.  It was released that year in the UK and Ireland, and the following year in the USA.

KILL LIST has a running time of 95 minutes and was rated 18 in the UK  for strong violence and language. It is available to rent and own.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


With the release of A FIELD IN ENGLAND, I decided to review the work of British writer-director Ben Wheatley, charting his move from well-crafted but fundamentally straightforward character dramas to surreal, obscure horror.  His first feature was the low-budget gangster drama, DOWN TERRACE, which garnered acclaim on the festival circuit but got only a small release in the US and UK in 2010. 

The movie follows a small-town British family for a fortnight after the mobbed-up father and son, Bill and Karl, are released from prison.  The first half of the film feels a bit like The Sopranos, as mid-ranking criminals are deadpan funny in their petty arguments about banal everyday problems, contrasting with their high-crime professional lives.  It's the kind of movie in which the assassin moans about having to babysit his toddler, and the long-suffering mother offers his little kid some orange squash while offering his father a selection of knives for his hit. And there's a scene at a bust stop that I hated myself for finding so funny. There's even a feckless son of a former friend who may or may not have grassed up the father - mirroring Tony's irritation with Chrisopher Moltisanti. 

Wheatley turns his small budget and limited shooting time into a virtue, creating a feeling of claustrophobia and slowly building tension as DP Laurie Rose shoots almost exclusively handheld in situ in a small terraced house.  The soundtrack is also effectively used as a commentary and a counter-point - beautiful blues music from Robert Johnson and folk music from Karen Dalton juxtaposing increasingly out-of-kilter violent scenes.  In front of the camera, we feel the menacing domineering presence of the paterfamilias, even when he's not on screen, and the relationship with his volatile son is brilliantly drawn - no doubt helped by the fact that most of the cast are related in real life.  But it's really Michael Smiley who steals the show as Pringle - the family's in-house toddler-toting assassin - and you can see why Wheatley chose to work with him in his subsequent movies. 

Overall, the movie is an assured and accomplished feature début that manages that truly difficult balance of dark humour and dark violence - combining an almost surreal descent into violent paranoia with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. It deserves to be seen more widely. 

A podcast review of this film is available on iTunes, by subscribing here.
It can also be played directly, below. 

DOWN TERRACE played a few festivals in 2009  and 2010 and went on limited release in the UK and USA in 2010.  It is available to rent and own, including on iTunes.  The movie was rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK for strong violence, drug use and strong language including one use of very strong language. It has a running time of 89 minutes.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


So here's the latest podcast review, covering the new film from the team that brought you the hilariously funny SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ.  Where the team stick to that original premise of schlubby suburban Brits tackling ludicrous otherworldly scenarios, the movie retains its laugh out loud brilliance. But, sad to say, director Edgar Wright has brought some of his ueber-stylised, comic-book action over from SCOTT PILGRIM and it's just tedious.  Still, despite that CGI, over-choreographed excess, when this film works, boy does it work, and it's definitely worth checking out. 

The film has a running time of 109 minutes and has been rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK for strong language and strong sex references.

THE WORLD'S END opens on July 18th in New Zealand; on July 19th in the UK and Ireland; on July 31st in Iceland; on August 1st in Australia; on August 23rd in the USA; on August 28th in France; on September 5th in Russia; on September 12th in Germany and Singapore; in the Netherlands on September 19th; on September 26th in Italy; on September 27th in Sweden; on October 3rd in Denmark;  on October 4th in Finland; on October 16th in Belgium; on October 18th in Norway; and on October 25th in Brazil. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The iTunes Podcast Feed

I'm excited to announce that my ten minute audio reviews are now up on iTunes for your listening pleasure!  Just go to the podcast part of the store and search for "bina007".  And if iTunes doesn't swing your boat, then you can use you usual RSS feed aggregator here:


So here's my ten minute review of Sofia Coppola's new film, THE BLING RING, based on the true story as covered in Vanity Fair magazine.  It's a really scary, zeitgeisty flick about young rich kids so badly parented and so obsessed with reality TV and celebrity that they aspire to live that lifestyle, even if means casually robbing celebrity houses to get the labels.  Sofia Coppola's take on the story is straightforward and leaves us to make our own judgement about both the kids, their parents and our own complicity in turning them into pop culture phenomena. It's a less auteur film than SOMEWHERE but is visually superb and features a great performance from Emma Watson.

THE BLING RING has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated R in the USA.

THE BLING RING played Cannes 2013 and opened in June in the USA, Belgium, France, Australia, Sweden, Croatia, Israel, Canada, Poland, Bosnia, Hungary, Russia, Finland and Lithuania. It opened earlier this month in the Philippines, Kuwait, the UK and Ireland. It opens on July 12th in Denmark and India, on July 19th in Macedonia and Estonia, on July 26th in Mexico. The movie opens on August 1st in Argentina, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Brazil; on August 8th in Australia and Portugal; on August 16th in Germany and Romania; on September 6th in Norway; on September 12th in Peru and on September 19th in Italy.

Download the MP3 here.